The two combatants circled each other warily, both waiting for an opening, the least sign of weakness, faint growls occasionally coming from one or the other. Both were humanoid, but not remotely human.
One was undisputedly female. She was a faint white, with a touch of pink, her skin seeming almost iridescent. Her wings were almost the same shade, but darkened to a coral pink. Her shoulder-length hair was a shockingly brilliant red, pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed in a pair of tattered jeans and a T-shirt, and her sky-blue eyes never seemed to waver from her opponent.
The other creature was male, dressed only in jeans. His skin was a dark green, like leaves in the midsummer. His hair was light brown, but just barely qualified for the title of fuzz. His eyes alternated between dark brown and a blazing white.
The pair paced around each other on a set of mats in a large room, bare except for a wall, made entirely of mirrors, several sets of weights and assorted work out equipment at the end of the room, and a large boom-box sitting next to the stairs leading up. Another gargoyle, female and a dark blue with a haircut similar to the male’s, sat on one of the benches, watching the battle avidly. Behind her was a door, stuck in the corner, as if an afterthought.
Suddenly the male snarled and lunged forward, stopping an instant before running into the female. He reversed direction, flaring his wings and looking like someone had hit a rewind button.
The female’s grin widened and her tail snapped forward, catching his leg and jerking him off his feet. He landed with an audible thud and rolled, but the female followed him, falling forward herself.
They came to a frozen halt, the female on top with her hands, with four fingers that could well be called talons, an inch from his throat.
“Give up?” she asked with a slight chuckle.
He groaned and relaxed, going limp and starting to pant. “Or what, you’ll rip out my throat? Of course!”
She laughed and stood, shaking her head. “You’re losing it, bro. You haven’t been practicing, have you?”
“Oh, gee, sorry, I’ve just been a bit busy lately.”
“Sorry, Tate, but Nicole’s got a point. That makes four out of five bouts she won.”
Tate glared at the blue gargoyle, lifting his head but staying sprawled on the floor. “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
She shrugged and grinned.
Nicole snorted and whistled softly. A large gargoyle-like beast, dark tan in color with a ruff like a lion’s, shifted and walked over to her side. She fumbled around for a second, then grasped the U-shaped handle to the harness on its back. “I’ll see you two later,” she told them, ignoring Jay’s wince at her choice of words, “but if I don’t get my tail up to the kitchen, Jerry’s gonna cut it off.”
The other two watched as she left, and Jay shook her head. “She did that deliberately, didn’t she?”
“She did what deliberately?”
“‘See you later’?”
Tate shrugged then sighed, standing up with a groan. “Most likely. All right, Jay, your turn to get pummeled.”
“Oh, no, that’s quite all right, really!”
“Come on,” he told her, grabbing a wing and pulling her onto the mats, “now that you’re a gargoyle, you need to learn how to fight.”
“I thought we learned the Gargoyle Way last night,” she groaned.
“We did. Tonight is How To Keep The Gargoyle Way By Learning How To Kick Bad Guy Butt.”
She had to laugh at that one. “C’mon,” she begged, “I can already do some of what you two were doing earlier.”
Tate shook his head. “But you don’t have a clue how to use your wings or tail in battle, do you? Besides, that round I won was by accident. You can’t depend on luck.”
“You’re obsessed, you know that?”
She chuckled as he laughed at that, then stared as another voice joined in the laughter. Standing on the stairway was a beaked gargoyle, powder blue with huge ears and a line of bony knobs running from his eye ridges down to the back of his neck. He was dressed in a pair of worn jeans and a green vest. It was a shock to Jay to see Silicon away from his computer, his frozen stone form during the day the only proof that she had (rarely) seen that he actually left the room. This was the first night she actually had to get a good look at him. Despite popular belief about computer nerds and other similar superstitions, Jay could tell he was as well-muscled and probably as deadly a fighter as the rest of the clan.
“It wasn’t that funny,” she protested.
“It is when he complained about the same thing last night to me about my computer,” Silicon retorted.
“What’s up besides you?” Tate asked.
His brother shrugged. “Ah, I need to tell you that the Leader wants to talk to you and that I’ll be more then willing to take up this lesson with Jay on the roof. If that’s all right with you two, that is.”
It was Jay’s turn to shrug. “Whatever. I’ll see you on the roof then.” She went up the stairs and Silicon shifted from foot to foot. Oh boy, he groaned mentally, now it hits the fan.
“Silicon.” Tate’s voice was oddly emotionless, but it stopped him in his tracks. “You’re taking Jay on patrol, aren’t you?”
He nodded. This was going where?
Tate sighed and cursed under his breath. “I don’t mind doing that,” he growled. “I’m off duty tonight, I’ll switch – ”
“No,” Silicon told him quietly, wincing inwardly. Chances were pretty good that his brother might try to kill him when he heard. “Mector wants me to take her around the first few nights. I’ll be switching off with Nicole after that.”
Tate stared, visibly confused. “I... don’t mind switching,” he repeated. “You don’t have to – ”
Silicon sighed. “Listen to me! Mector wants me or Nicole to go on patrol with Jay for the first week or so. After that... Who knows? And the Leader wants to talk to you in a few minutes anyways.”
Several more seconds passed with Tate staring at him. Finally the light dawned. Tate cursed some more and stomped up the stairs, brushing roughly past him on the way. He sighed in relief and sagged against the wall. He hated confrontations. That was why he spent so much time at the computer. Well, at least Tate was going to take it out of the Leader (or at least try) instead of him.
Well, worrying about that could wait until later. He had to go on patrol.
When Silicon got to the roof, Jay was sitting on one of the lawn chairs, watching the night sky. “Come on,” he told her, “we need to get a move on.”
She stared at him, nonplussed. “What?”
“We need to go on patrol. Didn’t you and Tate do that last night?”
She backed away from the roof’s edge. “Uh, nope. Just talked about the Gargoyle Way, in deeper detail. That’s all.”
Silicon crossed his arms and glared at her, walking over to the edge and managing to maneuver her nearer to it as well. “Why are you acting so freaked?”
“About patrol? Well, I believe that means flying – uh, gliding.”
“You have wings, you know, and Tate did say you flew the night before last.”
She blushed a deep purple. “That was more like controlled falling and an imitation of a flying chicken.”
He laughed, and Jay relaxed for an instant, but it was more then long enough for him to reach out and shove her off the building. Jay fell screaming until, an instant before she and the turf became one, her wings flared and caught a current of air that lifted her up. She rode the breeze up to the roof and glared at the beaked gargoyle. “I’m going to kill you!” she screeched.
He only laughed and flung himself off the roof, catching another breeze. “You have to catch me first!” he yelled over his shoulder as he shot off into the night.
She swore under her breath, but Jay banked and followed.
“You wanted to see me, Leader?” Tate asked Mector. The Leader was in the library, looking over the shelves for a book Tate doubted even existed.
“Ahem, yes. It is about Jay.”
“Really.” If Mector was going to do something as stupid as he suspected, the Leader would have to fight for every inch.
Finally Mector sighed then turned to glare at him. “Tate, I realize you feel protective of Jay. That’s good. We protect, but there is a line we don’t cross. You need to remember that she is not a gargoyle. Jay is human.”
Tate blinked, then smothered a snarl and settled for grinding his teeth. Couldn’t the Leader get it? They were friends. That was it! Why did everyone keep trying to make something more out of it?
Mector either didn’t see or ignored his anger. “While she might have been changed, she is still basically human in views, morals, and mentality. I think you are forgetting that. Every night we go out and try to protect the humans from themselves. She is as much a danger to herself as she is to the Clan. So I’ve decided to put her under the supervision of several of the others that can distance themselves a bit better then you seem capable of.”
Tate glared at him, fighting to keep his eyes from glowing and slugging the Leader. “You’re separating us so I don’t get any wild ideas of mating with someone you obviously still see as human, and also disapprove of and have since the night I brought her here,” he growled. He slammed a fist into one of the side tables and felt it quiver under his hand, nearly breaking. “Dammit, Jay is my friend. Why does everyone make that into mates-to-be and then try to get us distanced so that my ‘infatuation’ can wear off?!” He rumbled a near growl and stomped out, ignoring the demands of the Leader that he come back.
Tate stormed downstairs, and hesitated a moment in front of the door to his room. That was the obvious place for him to go, and besides, he didn’t really want to stew in there. It felt too much like being sent to the Rookery when he was younger. He actually wanted to talk about it. That meant one of three gargoyles; one of who was out with Jay on patrol, Kyla, who was on cooking duty, or Megan.
He swerved and took a detour to one of the other doors. He knocked and let himself in.
A gargoyle, a deep fuchsia color with wings startlingly similar to a blue jay’s and three horns, was leaning over something on a work table with a soldering iron in one hand. She apparently finished with her work and stretched, pushing up the visor on her face mask. “I was wondering when you’d get here,” she commented almost idly, examining her work with a cautious talon. Tate flopped down on the bean bag pushed in the corner, being careful to miss the doodads and gadgets lying on it. He grimaced. “You were expecting me?”
His sister looked up from the thing on the table to give him an incredulous look. “I think everyone in the house could hear you and Mector having it out. Man, I’m just glad you left when you did. If you hadn’t, something- or someone- might’ve ended up broken. And I don’t do bones.”
He groaned. “Oh, man. Now I’m glad Jay’s out on patrol. And I know you don’t do bones, that’s Nina.”
“Uh huh,” she replied absently, flipping down the visor and going back with the soldering iron.
“I just don’t get it. Why is Mector getting so worked up about this? I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t, hell, I found us a new gargoyle. There isn’t a single thing I’ve done that’s been against Clan Law other then bring in a human without checking first. And that turned out all right. I mean, she already knew about us, this was just the next step.”
She turned off the soldering iron and picked up several wires. “Can you hand me that bolt? Mector’s afraid. When you brought Jay in, well, Sadie says that she’s the first human ally we’ve had since the clan was almost destroyed. Ya know, the gloom and doom, thank-your-lucky-stars-your-egg-was-one-of-the-ones-we-saved story?”
“Yeah. The one Sadie tells us every hatching day. The humans we thought were our allies betrayed us. Duh.”
“Right. Well, the Leader saw most of his brothers, sisters, and everyone else killed. We nearly lost the house – ”
He held up a hand, and she absently placed a screwdriver in it. “Meg. I’ve heard this one a thousand times before. Get to the point.”
She shrugged, fiddled with the thing, and then put out a hand. He handed over the screwdriver. “Jay’s a sign of change... and a bit of going back to the old ways. Not to mention the fact that she is – or was – human. And... well, that freaks him out too. Humans equal trouble, Jay was human, so therefore she equals trouble.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense!”
Meg snorted and held out the screwdriver again. He took it and absently toyed with it while she flipped the torch back on. “We know that. So does he. But underneath, he’s still thinking that. As for why he’s coming down so hard on you... Philips.” Obediently, he handed the tool back to her. “Red wire next to your foot.” That changed hands as well. “How much has Sadie told you about your parents?”
He shrugged and handed over a blue wire without much prompting. “Not much.”
“Did you know your mother used to be pretty close to Mector?”
He blinked. “Are we talking close as in friends, or friends, wink wink nudge nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean?”
“Stop watching so much Monty Python. Please, for the sake of everything, just stop.” Meg took out the soldering iron again. “And it was the second one. White wire!” She turned off the soldering iron and poked the thing with a talon. “So he feels a bit more then Rookery Father protective.”
“I didn’t know that. Am I the last to know everything?”
“Nah, but it’s amazing what you can hear when people think you’re totally oblivious with what yer doing. And as for making you two mates... that’s the fault of the romantics of the clan. The way you two met sounds like something from a TV special – ”
“Yeah, Tales from the Crypt.”
“ – and they want to see it finished right.”
“But we’re just friends! And I swear, if you say anything along the lines of how I’m protesting too much – ”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ll try to get a rumor going along those lines, if you think that’ll help...”
“Thanks, Meg. I needed to talk to someone.” He bounced off the bed and headed for the door. Things weren’t at a great conclusion, but it’d do.
“Hang on a minute there, bro. There’s still the slight matter of your fee.”
Fee? This was new. It didn’t help that she was still fooling around with some wires. “And that would be?”
“You have to answer one question.”
Oh, joy. He braced himself for the worst. “Which is?”
Finally the fuchsia gargoyle looked up with an exasperated expression. “Do I have a sign stapled to my forehead that has ‘Wandering Confessional’ on it?” she asked plaintively.
Jay strained her wings, stretching them out as far as possible to get the most out of the weak breeze. Silicon, who had been leading the entire way, swooped down to the roof of a building she couldn’t identify. She stumbled to a landing shortly after. “Okay, I give up. You win,” she panted.
Silicon chuckled and shook his head. “If a ten minute flight is wearing you out, you’re not gonna survive your first fight.”
“Fight?” she repeated.
“Yeah. You know the thing Nicole’s been training you for, what we left before?”
“Never mind,” he sighed. “You’ll find out.”
“That’s not reassuring.”
He grinned and opened his beak to respond, but the scuffle of sneakers against cement snapped his head around to peer into to night. He padded over to the far edge to stare downwards into the darkened alley. The grin reappeared and morphed into a smirk. “Speaking of which,” he whispered, then pointed.
A scruffy human, gender indeterminable due to the shadows (despite gargoyle sight being keener then a human’s) and a bulky and tattered gray sweater, was fiddling with the lock to the door below. The human glanced around nervously, then pulled out... Jay squinted in the hope it would bring things into better focus... something small that the human jiggled in the lock. Jay somehow suspected it wasn’t a key.
A strange feeling woke in the pit of her stomach, a tingle of excitement and something she couldn’t name. “Well?” she whispered, exhaustion forgotten, “what do we do?”
The beaked gargoyle gave her a savage grin as his eyes lit up with a pale white glow. “Stop him, of course. There’s two ways we can do this; subtle, or bad cop. Since he tried to break into here a month ago, we do it subtle. Follow my lead.”
She blinked, but obediently followed him down to the ground. If this was the second time, shouldn’t they try scaring him off for good?
Silicon landed silently behind the man, cloaking his wings and folding his arms. “Lenny, Lenny, Lenny,” he chided in a silk over steel voice, “I thought you were giving this up.”
The man yelped and whirled around, clutching a pair of wires like a life preserver. “Wh- wh- who’s there? C – come on out!”
Silicon tsk-ed and shook his head. “Now, Lenny, you should know that. I busted you for this a month ago. Same place, for crying out loud.”
Lenny turned white and backed away to where Jay stood in the shadows. She had trouble making out Silicon, and apparently Lenny’s vision was even worse. When Silicon let his eyes glow white, though, the crook obviously saw that. He stumbled back only to feel Jay’s claws close around his shoulders. “Hi,” she purred, taking strange delight at the man’s terror. This time he screamed outright and collapsed.
“Don’t hurt me! I wasn’t doin’ nothin wrong!”
“Breaking and entering’s a criminal offense,” Jay hissed, her eyes sending an unholy red glow over the human’s shoulder. “Three guesses what stealing counts as.”
“My friend here’s right,” the beaked gargoyle said as he glided close. He reached out and grabbed the crook’s T-shirt and slowly lifted him into the air. “I suggest you find a new line of work.”
“Like what? Ain’t exactly easy fer a former criminal to get a job! Please, just lemme go!”
“Former?” Jay muttered under her breath.
Silicon tossed him lightly to the ground near the sidewalk. “We’re watching you, Lenny. Don’t forget that. Next time you try to pull this sort of stunt, you won’t be able to pull it again. Get out of here.”
The man scrabbled off, soon leaving the gargoyles alone with the echoes of pounding feet.
“Whoa!” Jay leaned back against the wall as Silicon pulled out a pad and pen and began to write something down.
“Yeah.” Jay blinked. “But man, what a rush! Whoo, I thought waking up was shocking, but that was a real surge.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Weren’t you a little... harsh on him?”
The beaked gargoyle finally looked up with a grin. “You want harsh, you should see first timers. Let yer eyes glow, bare your fangs, growl, gnash your teeth... Leave them thinking ‘rampaging animal’.”
“Then what do you call this?”
She chuckled weakly, still amazed at the surge of adrenaline and the urge to go after the crook and probably pound his face in. She’d never considered herself one for the intimidation thing, but... she really enjoyed the look of terror on the man’s face. She pushed away the rather disturbing thought. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Oh, just getting all the important information down,” he replied absently, squinting at something next to the pad, then scratching down some more.
Silicon flipped the pad shut and tossed something at her. She fumbled with it a moment before she managed to get a good look at it. “What th... You took his wallet?!” She stared at him. “Excuse me, but aren’t we supposed to be stopping crime, not committing it?”
He chuckled almost bitterly and shrugged. “He’s right. Some people don’t have a choice about how they try to live. If he’s telling the truth, then we can find out and help him, maybe find a job he’s suited to. Until then – ” he snatched back the wallet, pulled out a ten dollar bill and put it in – “we drop this off near a cop and hope he’s not lying. Come on, we have lots more to patrol.” A thoughtful and silent Jay followed him up the wall and into the night.
Tate idly hit the button again, only half watching the screen jump. He shifted to cover more of the couch and used the remote again, running the gauntlet of infomercials and late night dramas.
“Hey.” At the greeting, he leaned back over the couch edge to see an upside down Jay.
“Hey yourself,” he said, pulling up his legs and tail to give her enough room to curl up on the last cushion. “So how was patrol?”
“Eh.” She shrugged and settled herself on the end of the couch. “What are we watching?”
“No clue. And ‘eh’? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You sound like my mother. And it means it was... different. Not what I expected.”
“Which would be?”
“Well....” She studied her hands then shrugged again. “I dunno, just.... something different.” For a while they watched the TV, neither really seeing it. Finally Jay sighed and shifted slightly. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
Tate muted the TV. “Fire away.”
“I don’t get it. Silicon and I ran into some housebreaker early on. We scared him off, but Silicon stole his wallet, took down personal info, then put ten bucks in. We left it near a cop later.”
Tate nodded blankly, sure he was missing something obvious here. “And...?” He milled his hands as if hoping to reel the answer out of her.
“And why? This guy was an admitted felon, let him roast. He just about confessed to trying to break in.”
“Oh.” He leaned back and blinked. It was rather harsher than what he expected. “Well, bad things happen to good people.” He ignored her exasperated groan. “And this is just our way of trying to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks and maybe get a second chance. Silicon’s running the info he picked up through some sort of program he came up with – don’t ask me what it does or how, ‘cause no one knows – and he might be able to get the guy a job. As for why, well if you can’t handle giving the guy a break, then figure it as saving tax money by getting him into a job and out of crime and jail.”
Jay stared at him for a second. “You’re preaching,” she finally stated.
He snorted and whacked her lightly. “C’mon, I’m a gargoyle. Ya know, protect and help the helpless and all that junk. If I don’t preach, then I fail in my gargoyle duty.”
They watched the TV for awhile longer before Tate couldn’t take it anymore. Jay was most definitely not paying attention.
“And?” he finally prodded.
She sighed. “And one other thing is bothering me.” At his curious look, she shrugged. “It’s stupid. Never mind.”
“Not after you got my curiosity. C’mon, you won’t know it’s stupid unless you ask.”
“Oh, trust me, I know..... Oh, all right! It’s the ten bucks.”
“Ooookay. He can get a few meals at McDonald’s with that.”
She rolled her eyes. “Duh. I know that! What I mean is, well, you guys don’t exactly work nine to five – ”
“Well, nine at night to five in the morning, maybe a really long patrol,” he muttered, earning an evil glare.
“ – and come on, you have more toys than Bill Gates – ”
“Do not. That’s impossible.”
“- and you have a lot of toys, and that doesn’t even begin to cover water and electricity.”
“My, aren’t we being community conscious.”
Jay grinned sheepishly and shrugged. “Hey, I’m a city worker’s kid. I hear about this at the dinner table, ok? Live with it.”
No way she was getting off the hook that easily. He crossed his arms and glared at her. “Are you accusing us of stealing all that?”
Tate tried to hold the glare a while longer, but gave it up for a lost cause. “You probably won’t believe me.”
Jay shrugged and smirked. “Well, we won’t know unless you try.”
He made a face. “Do you have any idea how annoying that is?”
“What, parroting your words back at you? Yes.”
He sighed, rolled his eyes heavenward, and shook his head. “All right. Whatever. Ok, you know how Sadie’s been around almost since the U.S. has been a country?” She nodded and he shifted to a more comfortable position. “Well, thanks to her Fore Sight, and since we’ve been around to see all sorts of business and industries develop, we just pick the successes and invest.”
“Waitaminnit. Wait just one bleeping minute. Are you trying to tell me that gargoyles play the market?”
“Um, yeah, pretty much.”
“Oh, man,” she laughed, holding her hands up in protest, “you’re right. That I can’t believe.”
“Well, it’s the truth.”
“Then I have a very nice bridge to sell you. And no offense, but giving all the credit to Sadie is pushing things. She may have seen a lot, but she can’t see everything coming.”
“Wrong foresight. Think in capitals, two words, and seeing into the future, not what’s likely to happen.”
Jay glared at him with a perfect Spock look. “Precognition? I may read fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I believe it.”
“Pre-what? How the hell do you pronounce the word, let alone know it? No, never mind, I don’t want to know.” He shook his head as if trying to get rid of a nasty thought. “I don’t care what you think, but Sadie can see the future. She has some limited magic.”
“E-yeah. Like I said, I read it, but that doesn’t mean I have to believe it.”
“Oh yeah, and what would you say a year ago if someone told you there are real living gargoyles protecting the area?”
“Don’t go there.”
“Why? Because I got you into a corner?”
“Okay, so you play the market. That all?”
He shrugged. “Well, we don’t play the market, that’s what brokers are for.”
“Which means more money to pay them.”
“Yeah, but – right. Awhile ago, we had deals with some local stores, they sold some of the stuff we make. Kyla does that, but she’s not supposed to, so you never heard about it.”
Jay blinked, but grinned and nodded.
“Sometimes after rescuing someone from a mugger, out of gratitude –” he rolled his eyes “ – they leave behind their wallets, and occasionally...” His face darkened. “Occasionally, we’re don’t make it in time.”
“The mugging victims are dead so you take their wallets?”
“No! Well, not unless we need to... ahem, leave it somewhere.”
“What you’re talking about is planting evidence. That’s illegal.”
“You want that scum on the streets?”
It was Jay’s turn to sigh and roll her eyes in disgust. “Okay, let’s do a little test. Repeat after me. Blue.”
“Blue,” Tate parroted with a look that clearly stated he thought she was insane, idiotic, or possibly both.
“Morons,” he deadpanned.
“You heard me,” he snapped, masking a quick grin. “Come on, we don’t have all night. Well, actually, we do, but that’s not the point. What’s the next one?”
“Ah, right.” Jay glared at him, then shook her head. “Ahem. Right. Next word. Ethics.”
Hmm. She barely batted an eye at the last one... “Argh! Bad word!” he yelped, pulling out a cushion and cowering behind it like a shield. “Keep it away!!!”
Jay abruptly broke into laughter at his antics, laughing so hard she tumbled off the side of the couch. He peered down at her, concerned for a moment until he saw her continue to giggle. “You need help,” she finally managed to say.
“Yeah. Your point is?” Jay slumped back and continued to howl with laughter. Tate grinned and shook his head. Looked like things were going to be all right. And if this was any sign, now that she had the wings and tail, Jay was going to fit in just fine.
A colorful trail of curses, swears, and blasphemy of several different religions trailed from the front door to the living room, where Jay, Tate, Frank, Arin, and Meg bemusedly watched the doorway.
“-king overgrown pigeons on crack!” Steve finished with a snarl, hopping into the room, somehow managing to keep his balance while wiping his left foot with a wet towel.
Frank and Meg applauded his performance, to which he snarled again and gave them a rude gesture with free hand and tail. Unfortunately, that upset the delicate balancing act, so the blue gargoyle toppled to the side, sparking off another round of curses, now mostly gibberish as he crashed to the floor.
Jay looked down at him, amusedly filing away some of the choicer new phrases. “Dare I ask?”
“Aww, but it’s so much fun!” Meg crooned.
“Bite me! The fucking turkeys are back and leaving their fucking droppings all over the lawn. Nearly went in to my ankle.”
“Hmmm. Reeeeeaaaaally,” Tate mused, voice deepening to a cross between a growl and a purr.
Arin shot him a look. “The animals are getting a little overabundant.”
“Saw a deer nibbling in the garden yesterday,” Frank added.
An evil smirk and look spread through the gargoyles.
Arin cleared her throat. “You do need to ask the Leader, don’t forget.”
“Ask the Leader what?” Mector rumbled from the doorway.
“Dibs!” Steve bellowed, then jumped to his feet. Leaving a trail of damp footprints, he walked over to bow before Mector with surprising seriousness. “Leader,” he said gravely, “we request a Hunt.”
He raised an eyeridge then gave Steve’s foot a significant glance. “Turkeys booby trapping the yard again?”
The younger gargoyle flushed purple. “Yessir.”
“I see. Well we can’t have that. So long as you remember the rules....”
“No mothers, no young,” Tate filled in, standing and wings flaring slightly with eagerness.
The Leader smiled and stepped to the side. “Exactly. Tell the rest as you leave. I will stay tonight.”
In seconds, whooping and cheering gargoyles had cleared the room except for Mector and Jay. Jay blinked and shook her head. “What was that all about?”
The Leader leveled a quasi-glare at her. She drew back slightly. He did not approve of her in the slightest and made that constantly clear. She still hadn’t figured out why, but simply accepted it and – most of the time – avoided the temperamental gargoyle.
Luckily, he seemed inclined to tolerate her tonight. “The animals around here tend to multiply rapidly. We need to go out occasionally and reduce the populations.”
“Ahhh.” She nodded sagely. “But the whole ‘no mothers/young’ thing...?”
“Standard practices; make sure they can survive for next year.”
“But what if somebody goofs?”
The glare intensified. “It’s never come up before.”
Probably the other reason I’m not going. A sudden realization hit her. “Hey, no one stopped by the armory.”
The original gargoyle bared his fangs in what was most definitely not a smile. “Why would they?”
Suddenly far too aware of her own collection of fangs, spurs, and claws, Jay shivered and retreated to the Library.
Jay stood in the center of the mat, watching Nicole pace around her. “Well?” she finally asked. All she knew was instead of patrol, she was supposed to be working with Nicole. What that meant, she had no idea. Finally the white gargoyle sighed.
“Mector told me to teach you how to fight.” She shrugged. “I started that when you were human, but that leaves out several important natural weapons. So we’ll start all over again.” Jay bit back a groan. “But this time, the right way. ” She went to the stereo and popped in a CD. “Recognize this?” she asked.
This was getting stranger all the time. “Yeah. I have it at home.”
Nicole snorted in what sounded like disgust, then put in another. “How ‘bout this one?”
Jay listened for a second, then blinked. “Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch?” she repeated. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Doesn’t matter. Tonight, listen to it until you can at least pretend to sing along.”
“What?!” Jay looked between the stereo and Nicole as she calmly walked up the stairs. “I don’t get it.”
“Eww. Nicole’s giving you the song treatment?” Jay looked from the stairs to the door stuck at the back of the room. Kyla’s head was poking out with a sleepy, almost disinterested look on it.
“I’m... not really sure...”
The lavender gargoyle snorted. “Come on in. I got a CD player and if it’s TMBG, subliminal listening really works.”
“Ah.” She grabbed the CD, stopping it mid-wail about Istanbul. She cautiously entered the other room. Despite the fact that she’d been around the clan for a few months, she’d never actually been further then the workout room (jokingly referred to as the Danger Room). This was new territory.
The room was about the same size as the Danger Room, if not a bit bigger. That struck Jay as a little strange. She was pretty sure that it took up space at least a third of the floor above it. Half of the room was devoted to machines she vaguely recalled from woodshop, while the other half had obscure devices ranging from a paper cutter big enough to remove hands to an area with several blow torches. Kyla was there with a lighter and holding a piece of some sort of metal. She nodded over to the middle of the room. On a worktable was a boom box.
Jay obediently started the CD again, still trying to figure out what the lyrics meant. She grabbed a stool and settled down behind Kyla and watched what the lavender gargoyle was doing.
Kyla held the blowtorch close to the metal, gently waving it from side to side until it glowed a dull cherry red. She pulled back and turned the torch off, then grabbed a small pair of tongs to pick up the metal and dunk it into a can of water. The metal hissed as it came into contact with the liquid.
“Hmm?” Kyla looked up from the metal and blinked like she’d forgotten about Jay. Then again, maybe she had. “Oh. Making a pin. Hatching Day is coming up soon so that means I’m going into overtime in here.”
“Hatching day?” That was a new one. “Is that anything like a birthday?”
“Exactly. ‘Cept it’s fer all of the rookery. That is, anyone my age. Or Tate’s.”
“Ah.” Jay nodded blankly. “So, what exactly is it I’m supposed to be doing with the music?”
“Listening to it. Memorizing as much of the lyrics as you can. Tomorrow night she’ll have you sing along while doing some moves.” She took the metal and turned it over, examining it critically at all angles.
“You mean fighting, not dance, right? And why?”
“Yeah. Well, for one, when you get into a fight, it really freaks out most crooks when you start belting out Particle Man. And I guess it supposed to help you remember or something.”
Jay made a face. “What Karate Kid movie was she watching when she came up with this?”
The gargoyle laughed and in a lightning move grabbed a hammer and slammed it into the metal. Jay jumped slightly and yelped, both of which Kyla ignored as she frowned at the metal and whacked it again. “She refuses to say,” she finally admitted when she was apparently satisfied with the metal. She moved it to a workbench and pulled out a spool of wire and began threading them together. “I think it’s also supposed to help you concentrate. If you can tune out TMBG, then you won’t be distracted by anything.”
“So does it work?” Jay asked as Kyla cut the wire and began to file it.
“Surprisingly, yes. There! What d’you think?” Kyla proudly displayed a broach of a crescent moon, tipped with a single star, and holding an intricate wire flower.
“Wow,” Jay breathed, reaching out to touch it with a cautious talon. A second after her talon hit the wire flower, it fell to the floor and landed with an ominous ting.
“Oh shit,” Jay said, staring down at the wire. Then her gaze shifted to Kyla. “Oh shit!” she whispered, this time with more feeling.
The gargoyle stared at her for a second, her expression frighteningly unreadable. “Do you know what this means?” she finally asked in an unemotional voice.
You kick my tail from here to Alaska and back? “No,” she whispered, voice nearly squeaking.
Kyla sighed. “This means we – and especially you – are going to be very very busy.”
Jay swallowed. This can NOT be good. “Meaning...?”
Kyla flicked the wire mass with her tail, sending it shooting upwards to be snatched by her talons midair. “Meaning if I can goof a simple cold connection, then I need to slow down, but still meet the clan’s demands, and you are getting lessons in metalworking so you can help me.”
“What?!” Jay squawked, “but I don’t know anything about metalworking!”
“That’s nice. Now. First thing, the wire’s in here. This is copper, that’s bronze, gold, don’t touch this; it’s pewter....”
Well. At least things aren’t going to be boring.
The clan woke with their usual roars, but the silence following it startled Jay. From dusk to dawn there was always some sort of background chatter among the gargoyles, but tonight, there was only a near-oppressive silence. She opened her mouth to ask what was going on, but suddenly Tate was there, shaking his head as he placed his hand over her mouth. She blinked but relaxed, trying to show she’d be quiet. Sensing her submission, he removed his hand. He gave her a reassuring wink then gently pulled her to stand behind Megan and Silicon. She realized with a start that the clan was pairing off by twos, led by Mector and Sadie, followed by Frank and Arin. When everyone was in the two lines, accomplished in that eerie silence, an unknown signal started them moving forward.
When the first pair leaped from the roof, using their wings to glide gently to the ground, Frank and Arin finally broke the silence by starting an eerie duet. Everything beyond “Gaudeamus igitur” was lost as the two gargoyles blended harmony and words into a steady rhythm and solemn chant.
By now completely lost, Jay shrugged and followed the clan off the roof.
The gargoyles made their surprisingly stately way through the trees along a route – path not included – she was totally unfamiliar with. When they took another meaningless – or so she thought – turn, a path suddenly appeared before them.
Literally appeared; one moment they were walking through the trees, the next a stream of blue material like swamp gas outlined a path they headed down. Jay started, but managed to keep down a squeak. Noticing her reaction, Tate grinned and caught her hand for a quick, reassuring squeeze.
After another refrain or so, the glow had faded to two bright lines outlining the very edges of the path. Then they suddenly split off to a clearing, rows upon rows of stone pillars, at least three feet in height, but never more then five surrounded by a perimeter of trees eerily outlined in the blue foxfire. She had enough time to gawk, and noticed that all of the apparently unique trees were spaced with uncanny regularity.
The clan spread into a semicircle surrounding Sadie and Mector, who stood before the pillars. Jay had just realized with a chill that the stones were grave markers when the Elders began to speak.
“Another year has passed,” Sadie announced gravely, in a voice resonating with ceremony.
“The sun conquers night once more,” Mector chanted.
“And we have survived.”
“So we gather to remember those who did not.”
Hairs on the back of Jay’s neck began to tingle during the ritualistic speech. Something was going on. Considering this was a graveyard, she didn’t find that reassuring, despite the calm expressions of her clan mates.
“On this, the shortest night,” Sadie continued.
“We honor the dead.”
“Let them not be forgotten.”
“So we shall be remembered.”
At last, with the Leader’s words, the tombstones began to glow with a faint blue aura. It strengthened to near blinding light, then shot from the stones in arcs of azure. Lines crisscrossed the clearing, joining stone to stone to gargoyle. The former human’s jaw dropped as she traced the lines, all receding into the far edge of the cemetery. Every one of them touched Sadie at one point at the very least, surrounding the venerable female with a shifting sapphire glow.
Jay blinked and looked closer. No, not a glow.... beings. Tiny gargoyles gliding on cerulean winds. They surrounded all of the clan, occasionally darting from one to the next. Even Tate was swarmed by them.
I never thought I’d be visiting a gargoyle, a wispy yet somehow rumbling voice commented in her mind. Jay focused on the lights now swirling around her. It began with two men, tall, wearing colonial clothing and blackened aprons, with similar features. They were soon joined by more figures, all human.
Bah. Doesn’t really matter what she looks like, Da, she’s kin. Ye should be glad we’ve a chance to visit more than just Sadie.
Aye, I’m not complaining, Andrew. Just thought it would happen before now.
Get yore minds outta th’ gutter an’ onta business!
Then there was nothing but blissful oblivion.
Jay slowly returned to consciousness. She half expected a headache or hangover or.... something, but she just felt normal. Odd, after.....
She frowned in confusion. After – after what? After something big, she was sure of that. The whole freaky procession to the cemetery, of all places, but after they arrived.... it was hard to recall anything other than a blue light.
“Well, it’s nice to know you’re back with us.” Tate sounded far too cheerful for the weirdness level.
“Murmph. What the hell happened?”
Tate helped her sit up on a marble bench nestled in a small alcove of trees off the main grove. Odd, since she couldn’t figure out how she could’ve missed spotting it. He handed her a glass of water then leaned up against a beech tree.
“Well, what do you remember?”
She paused to glare at him, then took a sip. “Can we cut the mystic seer crap?”
He spread his hands. “I’m serious. It’s different for everyone.”
“Oh kaaay.” Still suspicious, she shrugged. “Sadie and Mector gave this weird speech, the stones started glowing, I felt all warm and squishy, then – then I’m not sure. Something weird. And then I woke up.”
“The stones glowed?”
“Yeah. I think.” Okay, this takes the prize for weirdness. “So? What was that?”
“You remember the speech?”
“Ok, so since this is the shortest night, it’s an ancient memorial service for the clan’s ancestors. Don’t ask me why, it’s just tradition.”
“Spring is here, spring is here, life is skittles, and life is beer. I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring, I do, don’t you? ‘Course you do. But there’s one thing that makes spring complete for me, and makes every Sunday a treat for me.....”
Jay and Tate stared as a singing Frank waltzed an invisible partner into the room, bowed to the pair, then began waltzing again.
“Allllll, the.... world seems in tune, on a spring afternoon, when we’re poisoning pigeons in the park,” he warbled.
Jay burst into giggles, which Frank took as some sort of sign, so on the next pass he grabbed her hands and pulled her into the dance. “Every Sunday you’ll see, my sweetheart and me, as we poison the pigeons in the park!”
“Help!” Jay squawked, setting Tate off into helpless laughter, all of which Frank ignored.
“When they see us coming, the birdies all try and hide, but they still go for peanuts when coated in cyanide! The sun’s shining bright, everything seems all right when we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.”
“Frank!!! I can’t dance!”
“You seem to be doin’ fine!” Tate called.
“Shut up and help!”
“We’ve gained notoriety and caused much anxiety in the autobahn society with our games. They call it impiety, and lack of propriety, and quite a variety of unpleasant names! But it’s not against any religion, to want to dispose of a pigeon. Soooo, if Sunday you’re free, why don’t you come with me and we’ll poison the pigeons in the park.”
He finally released her in a spin, sending Jay to sprawl into a chair. He continued to dance out of the room, still singing at the top of his lungs. “And maybe we’ll do, in a squirrel or two while we’re poisoning pigeons in the park. We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment, except for the few we take home to experiment. My pulse will be quickenin’ with each drop of strickenen we feed to a pigeon, it just takes a smidgeon! to poison a pigeon in the park!”
Silence, interrupted only by breathless laughter, settled over the room.
Jay finally dared break it. “What the hell was that about?”
Tate just gasped with laughter and shrugged. “Damned if I know. He might, but I’m not laying down any bets.”
“No! No, no, no! Do you want me to say it again? Because it’s not gonna turn into yes!”
“Am I interrupting something?” Jay asked cautiously, looking between Tate and Steve, who were standing nose to nose and appearing instants away from each other’s throats.
Steve moved away first. “Man, come on!” he growled. “All I’m asking is for you to come along as backup. This isn’t about abusing our super powers; they aren’t gonna disappear if we do this!”
“No! And you might want to cut down on the comic books, they’re rotting out your brain. Oh, right, you don’t have to worry about that. Never mind.”
Steve snarled at him, eyes lighting up a phosphorescent white. “Fine, Terry, go ahead. Remind me to return the favor sometime.” He stormed out of the library, shoving past Jay on his way.
“What was that about? And ‘Terry’?”
“Just forget it, okay?” Tate rumbled before stomping into the computer room.
Jay stared after Tate, then Steve, then back at Tate. “Okay, now I’m confused.”
“Steve’s claiming there’s some sort of conspiracy going on down at the Village. Just coincidentally, there happens to be a costume party or something going on. Tate’s being his normal straight-arrow self and refusing to help.”
Jay whirled around at the unfamiliar voice. The speaker was a statuesque female gargoyle with light green-yellow skin that was nearly a lime color. She looked mostly human, except for two straight, tapering horns rising from her temples, and her tail ended in a flat, leaf-like shape. For a moment, Jay stared and racked her brain for just who the gargoyle was. It only took an uneasy moment to make the match. Nina. Geeze, I don’t think I ever heard her say a word before. Hell, I’ve barely SEEN her before. “So what was the Terry bit about?”
Nina shrugged half-heartedly. “Old clan tradition. It probably goes back to when we didn’t have names.”
Then what’d you call each other? Hey You, no, the other you, no, the OTHER you?
“Hatchlings are given a name when they come out of the shell, but at a gargoyle’s twenty-fifth birthday, there’s a formal naming ceremony. Pretty generic, actually; go out and kill something, then come back and proclaim your name. Tate was sick of how Steve and Frank were picking on him, so he choose a new name.”
“Ah.” Jay nodded, having been slightly lost a while back. She latched on to the part that she could understand. “So doesn’t it get confusing to change your names like that?”
She chuckled. “Nah, nowadays most of the clan sticks with their birth name. Though there are stories about how some gargoyles refused to pick a name until they ‘earned’ the right or something macho like that. Anyway, Tate and I were the only ones to choose new names.”
“So if he was called Terry, what about you?”
Jay abruptly found herself on the receiving end of the evil eye. “Rowena.”
Jay blinked and nodded. “That’s different.”
“You’re just dying to say weird, aren’t you?” Nina deadpanned.
“No! It’s just unusual. Not something you hear every day, that’s all. Why’d you change it?”
“You want to go around named after a tree? It just didn’t seem to fit me. Everyone was shortening it anyways.” With that, Nina turned and left. Jay shook her head in bemused amazement. First time she’d heard that much from the quiet gargoyle. She did a slow double take at the now empty doorway. First time I ever saw a gargoyle with dyed hair, too. Huh. Must like the color green.
“Ahh! What’re you trying to do, cauterize the damn thing?” Jay snarled.
“Stop squirming! No, I’m going my best to stop the bleeding!” Nina growled back. “And talking isn’t helping any!”
Tate raced into the room, skidding to a stop just before tripping over the lintel. He took the scene in with a glance. Jay was face down on the table with Nina holding a frighteningly red cloth to her shoulder.
“Finally! Someone decided I was actually worthy of notice! About time I got a little bit of help!” Nina half-bellowed to the clan in general. “Get over here. I need you to keep pressure on the cut.”
Tate hurried over. He switched places with Nina and held down the cloth, but let up slightly as Jay hissed in pain. A second later Nina pushed it back down.
“Dammit, I said keep pressure on it! Now hold it right there!”
He nodded. “What happened? I just ran into Silicon and he looks like he ended up on the wrong side of a war.”
“Try a suicidal punk, his friend, and a van,” Jay mumbled. “Punk number one freaked when he saw us and ran into the street and an oncoming van. Beaked idiot of a computer nerd decided to shove him out of the way. ‘Bout that time Punk number two got me with a switchblade. Ouch! That freaking well hurts!”
“Well, maybe next time you’ll reconsider jumping in front of a knife!”
“Excuse me, but it wasn’t my idea!”
“And it wasn’t my idea to try to stitch you up!”
Jay froze completely. “Stitches?” she squeaked.
“No, I’m just gonna stick a Band-Aid on it and you’ll be all better,” Nina crooned. “Come on, big bad cancer patient can’t handle a few stitches?”
A high pitched whine began to rise from the prone female. Nina drew back slightly, looking suspicious and confused. Tate flashed a glance between his sister and friend. “Stitches and needles are bad,” he translated.
The whine stopped for Jay to take a deep breath ending in a soft gasp. “Do you have to use stitches?” she asked in a strained voice. “I mean, with the whole sunrise healing thing....”
Nina hesitated, weighing patient mortality versus patient whim. “I... can do something for a quick and dirty healing, but it’ll cost you.”
“Done. Let’s get on with it.”
Nina laughed. “You haven’t even heard the price.”
“I don’t care,” Jay returned flatly. “Let’s just leave it as I owe you a Really Big Favor and do this.”
“I like the way you think. Stay,” she ordered both, then trotted out to her room. The walls were lined with shelves, and every flat surface had a jar of dried, pickled, and/or crumbled foliage or potted plant occupying it. Nina paused and closed her eyes, centering her mind and shelving her emotions. When she opened her eyes, they glowed a brilliant green. Moving without haste or pause, she almost absentmindedly grabbed bits of plants and unidentifiable objects, gracefully combining them in a small clay dish. Finally satisfied with the contents, she ground them together, humming something unidentifiable under her breath. When she finished, the glow of her eyes disappeared. The green gargoyle blinked, shook her head, and took the bowl of paste back to Jay.
She hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes.
Nina motioned Tate away from the still oozing wound, then gently cleaned it. That done, she spread the paste over it, once again humming under her breath. Tate was more concerned with the wound, so no one noticed the glow that returned to the healer’s eyes.
When the paste covered the knife wound, Nina pulled out a cigarette lighter and held the flame close, watching intently as the paste hardened. That done, she rapped on now clay-like covering. It crumbled into dust that vanished into the air.
Jay’s shoulder was whole.
“You Owe me,” Nina repeated before vanishing back to her room.
“Wow,” was all a stunned Jay could manage to say.
Someone cleared their throat from the doorway. Tate looked up from where he was trying to teach Jay how to play poker to see Megan and Silicon.
Megan squirmed slightly. “Is Jay busy?”
The gargoyle in question looked up. “Not really. Why?”
“We want to borrow you for a special Secret Mission.”
Tate blinked. That was unusual. To the older members of the clan, Secret Missions meant some poor human was going to get their house covered in toilet paper, silly string, and anything else the “kids” could think of (although sometimes he suspected they were just pretending to be stupid). To the younger gargoyles, that was just the side effect of an adrenaline buzz. It had all started one Thanksgiving when Steve and Frank had heard over the scanner several cops griping about the fact that they knew the location of a minor crimeboss, but were unable to legally do anything. The gargoyles, on the other hand, weren’t held back. Steve and Frank had convinced several of the others to come with them to get a confession. After getting everything they could, and calling the police, they had decided to get into the holiday spirit and decorated the house in toilet paper, post-its, several bed sheets, some food products, and one very terrified cat. When the police finally arrived, the building even had zebra stripes of bright green. Since then, various covert police missions; drug busts, gang raids, etc. had been accompanied by spontaneous house decoratings, usually those of known lawbreakers, gargoyle protestors (those few that could be found), or general humans that they decided were way too uptight.
“Want me to come?” he asked. It had been awhile since the last Secret Mission, before he had been put in the hospital. But Meg shook her head.
“Sorry, bro, but this is timed and planned. Any more then three are a danger to the mission. It just happens to be the right number and we need Jay’s help on it.”
Curiouser and curiouser. What would they need her for? Oh well. He’d learn soon enough. “Okay, but you owe me a game of poker.” He ignored her gag. “I nearly had Jay playing on her own.”
The roof of the Mohegan Sun casino
“I swear, if it was any other two gargoyles...” Jay sighed as they landed on top of the casino. “Um, don’t they have security systems to keep this from happening?”
Megan shook her head as she paced around a skylight. “Just on the windows. Otherwise every pigeon in creation would set it off. Not to mention other birds, but, hey, pigeons deserve it.”
Jay snickered as she and Silicon acted as lookouts. She still had trouble believing the clan’s obsession with pigeons being the equivalent of Barney, the Power Rangers, and/or the Teletubbies.
Megan muttered some more to herself, then pulled a gadget of some sort out of the pouch hanging from her belt and placed it on the window. There was a small spark, a scent of ozone, and then nothing. “Impressive,” Silicon muttered.
Meg bowed, then lifted up the pane of glass. “Everybody in. Jay, are you sure your information’s accurate? We’ve never actually been inside.”
“Yup.” She grabbed the sill and swung down inside behind Silicon, hanging a few seconds. “Dad’s got access acting as a fire marshal, and one day he brought Mom and me in so we could see what it’s like. Believe me, it’s a good thing we aren’t trying this at the Pequots’.”
“Uh huh. Where too?” Meg asked when she joined them. The trio was able to hang off the ceiling by ropes that held decorative knick knacks, decorations made to represent the seasons. The gargoyles were hanging off art-deco leaves in the Spring section, over rows of slot machines, nearly at the snowflakes of Winter. The entire casino was kept dim, making humans nearly blind when trying to see distances, but it was perfect lighting for the gargoyles.
Then Meg’s mouth dropped open as she finally got a good view below them. The slots were full of people, many dashing back and forth between several machines. “Good Gods!” she hissed. “It’s midnight! There’s at least thirty humans down there!”
Jay bit her lip and squinted downwards. “Probably more. Should I say ‘I told you so’ now or later?”
Silicon’s beak snapped shut. “Save it for later.” Despite his attempt to sound matter of fact, his tone was still audibly awed. “Damn, now I know you humans are crazy. C’mon, we need to get to Fall. I think we can just glide over if we’re careful.”
Jay managed a snort as they headed towards the center of the building. “We’d do better going through Winter. The Wolf Den is in the center and I think the walls go all the way up. And if you think that’s crazy, did you know they keep on lawyers just to sign over companies, houses, and stuff like that for more money?”
Meg forced a laugh. “Right. Now you’re pulling my tail.”
“Nope. Why are we doing this again?” The last part came out nearly as a whine. “Aside from the fact that it’s insane and I still think you two just came in to gamble.”
It was Silicon’s turn to snort. “Please. There isn’t a single chance that we’d win.” Flashing lights, excited screams, and the unmistakable rattle of money suddenly erupted below them, as if to prove him wrong. “And there’s a drug deal going down. Massive amounts of cocaine from what I heard. And since it’s on the reservation, the police are stuck with their hands tied.”
“What about the Indians?”
He shrugged. “What about the Indians? I heard lots of griping over the scanner, but if they don’t have official proof, the police can’t come in, and the Mohegans, if it doesn’t get out to the press, just make more money.”
They came to rest on a “roof” of orange and yellow leaves and cornhusks over an inconvenient corner produced by the back of a row of slots and a wall behind a poker dealer. Jay took an awed moment to stare at the chips the poker dealer was using; if she was seeing correctly none of them were worth less than a hundred dollars.
“There they are,” Megan whispered. “The skinny guy that looks like a rat on two legs; he nearly got busted for the same thing a year ago. He’s supposed to be meeting a guy by the name of Diego.”
“Looks more like a weasel.”
“Whatever. You stay here and keep an eye on them. The meeting should be in about ten minutes. Silicon and I’ll go down and attract some guards here.”
“Is that a good idea?”
Meg shrugged. “Probably not. But it’s the best one we got.”
“Not to mention the only one we got,” Silicon called over his shoulder as he glided off.
“Be back in ten,” the fuchsia gargoyle said, patting Jay on the shoulder.
Jay watched them glide off, then settled in to wait. She still thought this was insane.
Megan picked an area of slots at random and glided over the rows. The last one at the back was perfect; the cleaners were finishing up, so it was virtually deserted, except for one man, tall with dark hair, who was just drunk enough to sway slightly while pulling the handle. She landed behind him, then casually walked past to another machine, nodding politely at him. She fished out a quarter and put it in. She grabbed the handle, almost absently smacking another toy on the side. If she had made it right, it would scramble the circuits enough to give her a reasonable payoff, although there was a chance of having to do it several times before it worked right. She hummed to herself while the computer generated dials spun, occasionally sending a cautious smile at the drunk. He didn’t seem very unsettled at her, other then quick glances, but it was more like simple curiosity then fear.
The machine hummed to a stop, coming up as nothing. Meg silently cursed and fumbled for change.
“Here,” her neighbor said, holding out a quarter. He smiled. “If you win, then you just owe me fifty cents.”
The simple act of lending money to her was a shock. She wasn’t human. Well, maybe he was drunk enough to put her appearance down to the liquor. She stopped staring at the coin and took it with one fuchsia, four taloned hand. “Thanks.” She popped it in and hoped it would work this time.
“Um, I think I’ve just had a bit too much to drink, but... uh, what do you look like?”
Meg grinned impishly as she pulled the handle to the machine. “Well, what do I look like to you?”
He blushed. “Uh, light purple skin, three horns, and bird wings.”
She smiled and acted on impulse, leaning forward and landing a kiss, like something from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, on the human’s lips. She pulled back at the sound of money descending from her slot machine and lights flashed on top of it. She smirked at the befuddled human. What the hell. Might as well give the Indians some good PR to go along with the bad. “Spirits move with the times, my friend,” she called out, heading for the walkway around the gambling area, – where security patrolled – stopping only long enough to grab her toy. “Just smiling down on humans went out of style awhile ago!”
She darted along the rows of slots, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I won! I won I won I won!” The first few security guards she passed ignored her screams, obviously used to it. Deciding that stronger measures were called for, she dashed out and grabbed the next one she saw by the shoulders and (gently) shook him while screaming in his face. Meg let him get a good look at her, especially her fangs, then let him go and ran towards the drug exchange. Within moments, she could hear the sounds of pursuit.
Silicon decided to go with slightly more showy measures. He picked a poker table and circled it, getting a good look at the players’ cards. Then he descended to land behind a blond woman in a green pant suit with a matching headband. She was sitting next to a worn looking man with a vaguely exasperated/henpecked expression. “Come on Margot,” the man begged, “just fold. There’s no way that’ll win.”
“Actually, you should bet it all. That’s the best hand at the table,” Silicon piped up. The dealer had already seen him, doubtlessly the security cameras had as well. The dealer backed up, looking like a landed fish. The woman in the pant suit turned, obviously annoyed, then screamed.
“Bren-don!” she screeched, “I thought you said – ”
Whatever Brendan had said was lost to Silicon, who grinned, bowed, turned and ran for the drug deal, security right behind him.
Jay stood on her perch, shifting from foot to foot as three men casually entered, all carrying briefcases. She wished that one of the others had stayed, or, even better, that they hadn’t even come. This was way past insane, and probably into the suicidal range. She dragged her attention back to the deal, then froze. The weasel was glaring at the man Jay was guessing was called Diego.
“Listen, I trust you, but I want to make sure I get what I pay for,” the weasel said.
Diego sighed and shook his head. “Such a lack of trust. We’ve done business for... how long?”
“Awhile. But last I heard, Dracon was in jail. And I know you work for Dracon.”
Diego frowned. “Despite such vile rumors, which I assure you are not true, I do not work for him.” His lip curled up in a sneer. “Miserable puppy cannot even control ‘his city’. But I suppose if you insist on checking, then I must allow you.” He lifted a briefcase up onto the table and popped the catch.
Jay swore and her eyes glowed red at the sight of small bags holding white powder that filled the briefcase. All thoughts about the sanity of the mission disappeared in a wave of pure gargoyle rage and instinct to protect.
Now the weasel was smiling and nodding. “Very nice.”
“And there are three more cases of the same. Packaged and ready to give to dealers.” Diego’s goons lifted the luggage at the mention. “The usual price, of course.”
Jay swore again and tapped her walkie-talkie. “Get here now!” she hissed. “They’re nearly done!”
There wasn’t any answer. Oh, shit, she moaned mentally. Man, I don’t think I’m up to this! She took a deep breath and jumped down.
The gargoyle landed on the table, crouching and grabbing the weasel’s throat in one hand and Diego’s in the other. “Hi boys,” she purred, hoping she didn’t show how nervous she was. “Fancy running into you here.” Great. Now what?
Her answer came in the form of Megan pounding around the corner in a full out run. She slammed into the goons, sending several sprawling, laughing the entire time. “Let’s go!” she yelled. The two scrambled up the decorations, with Silicon right behind them a second later. By the time the three were in the air and heading for Spring, the security guards had arrived and were ‘cuffing the weasel and Diego. None of them mentioned the gargoyles.
Megan was the last one out of the sky light. She closed the window, smacking her toy, then sprawled on the roof. Jay looked between her and Silicon, who was in nearly the exact same position a few feet away. “What just happened?”
She didn’t expect the other two to suddenly burst into giggle attacks.
“There was this guy –”
“This yuppie couple –”
Megan and Silicon stopped, shared a look, then started laughing.
Jay sighed and grabbed a wing each. “C’mon, guys. You can do a hyena impression at the house. Security might find us if we hang around – Good grief. I’m acting as the voice of reason. You’re a bad influence on me!”
The next night
“Jay! Jay, get in here! Now!!!”
She looked up from the brownie mix Jerry had barely trusted her enough to stir, then put it down and ran out into the living room on all fours. Silicon, Tate, Nicole, and Megan were sitting around the TV.
“And at the Mohegan Sun early this morning security caught two men, Diego Vargas and Phil Witt, in the middle of an exchange of massive amounts of cocaine. The men had apparently been using the casino as a base for trade for quite awhile.”
The view switched back to the perky news anchor and her equally perky partner. “Well, that’s good news,” she said, absently brushing at already perfect blonde hair.
“Yes it is,” her partner said. “And in related news, several people saw what they described as ‘demons’, ‘super heroes’, or ‘spirits’ running around the Sun shortly before the drug bust.” He laughed and turned to the blonde. “Now wouldn’t that be something; the spirits of the ancients rising up to pursue law and order.”
The blonde dutifully laughed. “I think you’ve been reading too many comic books, Brian. We’ll be right back with the weather and ways to save money on – ”
Silicon hit the mute button and nearly fell over laughing. “Spirits of the ancients?” he howled. “There’s a new one.” None of them could contain their laughter.
A few minutes later, Mector came in to the sight of five gargoyles laughing themselves sick on the floor. He sighed and shook his head. Kids. Who knew what went on in their minds?
Sadie headed for the library, intent on how she was going to put down the past week’s reactions and adjustments of the clan to Jay’s presence. The youngsters, after a few scuffles with Tate, had readily accepted her as she was, slightly clueless but a welcome addition... and to the males, entirely off limits. But it was the older members of the clan, particularly Mector, that worried her. The Leader continued to view Jay as merely a nocturnal, strange looking human who happened to be able to fly. And after Mariah, he wasn’t likely to look favorably on humans.
The sound of restrained crying hit Sadie the instant she stepped into the room. She traced it to a window seat hidden at the rear of the room. Jay was curled up against the wall, knees pulled up and wings wrapped around her as if to shut out the world.
Sadie carefully settled herself into a chair near Jay. “What is wrong?”
Frantic sniffling and face wiping tried to hide behind tented wings. “Nothin’.”
The old gargoyle waited patiently. When it was obvious that she not only didn’t buy the line but also wasn’t going anywhere, Jay sighed and seemed to deflate. “I wanna go home,” she admitted softly. “It’s fun being a gargoyle and all, but I’m ready to wake up and find it’s all been one big fucked up dream, cancer, gargoyles, and all. But.... that’s not gonna happen. I can’t even see my family again. Hell, Mom flipped out when Tate saved us. How’s she gonna handle this?”
Sadie sighed and leaned back. Now this was a pretty problem. Well.... She mentally shrugged and took the leap of faith. “We are a clan. You will always have a place here. Even if you were still human, you are a part of our clan. That extends to your family and those you think will be good allies. When you’re ready, go home. It might take time, but they will accept you.” I hope. Dragon help me, it’s been awhile since I needed to BS like this.
Jay finally peeked out. “Are you just saying this to make me feel better?”
She laughed. “No. It’s true. That’s just supposed to be a side benefit. Is it working?”
“Eh.” The former human shrugged.
“Well, think it over.” The old gargoyle creaked to her feet and walked to one of the small bedrooms they kept from habit when they’d had human allies. Settling herself on the bed, she admitted quiet amazement that she’d kept her reaction to merely frantic blinking. Well, what she’d Seen had been rather calm for a vision; Jay standing beside an elderly human, a female with graying black hair. This presented a new aspect to the puzzle.
Riiiiing. Riiiiiing. Riii-
“Ah, hello. May I speak with Amy Hallet, please?”
“Sure, hang on a sec. Gram! Phone!”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Sadie. From Connecticut.”
“I don’t believe this! It’s been ages!”
“Are you upset it took this long?”
“Upset? Goodness no. I’m the one who thought California would be a good place to retire with the relatives. So, what’s happening to make you call me?”
“You never did like to beat around the bush. I actually needed to ask about your family.”
“All shall be reveled. Do you still have family out here? Grandchildren?”
“Yes, actually. My daughter, her husband, and two children.”
“What are you plotting?”
“It’s rather complicated. The Leader has finally taken his thick head out of the sand, so we’re trying to make some human contacts.”
“So you’re looking to renew unofficial friendships with people you trust.”
“You’ve got it in one.”
“Hmm. Well, I’m fairly certain the kids will take it well. Chad’s 19, and Jay is 17.”
“Perfect age. Could you smooth the way a bit for me? revive a few old fairy tales, quote Shakespeare, you know....”
“On two conditions. First, you let me come down and visit some time.”
“Second, spend the next hour or so in a good old fashioned gossip.”
“You have yourself a deal!”
Jay was bored. With the exception of herself, Silicon, and Kyla, the Clan was out and about, most on patrol and the rest for unknown reasons. Which meant Silicon was glued to his computer and entirely incoherent, Kyla was in the metal workshop, also not in the mood for company, and Jay, despite all of Nicole’s training, was stuck with nothing to do. It was the first time in she didn’t know how long that had happened. She was too restless to read, and the Leader had ordered them to protect the house, so she couldn’t go out and explore.
After reading the same paragraph in a book for at least the third time, she slammed down the book and wandered out from the library into the living room.
TV? Nah. Nothing on. Armory? Yeah right. Bug Silicon? Tempting... but I prefer my face in one piece. Well. That blew my options all to hell. Downstairs, ho!
On the middle floor there were several more options. She pawed through the collection of video and computer games, then sighed and gave the pool table a peery eye. Possible. But...last resort. One player games are boring. That killed off her other choices. Downstairs? To do what? Argh. Then, when scanning the room again, she blinked. The small area at the end was walled off and the door shut. It wasn’t taboo area, but she’d never actually seen anyone in there. Well...why not? It’s something to do. And nobody ever told me not to go in there. No time like the present, right?
Despite her cavalier thoughts, Jay cautiously tried the door several times before actually opening it. She growled quietly. Totally devoid of light, even the lights from outside failed to create more than a faint lessening of the shadows. She fumbled along the wall, then bared her fangs in a grin as she hit jackpot.
The fluorescent lights flickered to life, revealing a room far larger than Jay originally suspected. It was big enough and then some for its occupants, obviously made for many more then the five currently in residence. Jay stepped forward, almost desperately trying to disbelieve what she saw, and reached out with a trembling talon to stroke the smooth curve of object lying in carefully paced fabric strips. Despite her mind’s insistence that this couldn’t be real, that it was simply too big, the porcelain thin, almost leathery surface was too warm, and she could almost swear she felt a light throb under her fingers; a steady beat that kept in time with her heart.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?”
Jay yelped and spun around, snatching her hand away from the purple and gray surface like it had burned her. “Sadie,” she gasped, spotting the ancient gargoyle standing in the doorway. “Please don’t do that, you’ll give me a heart attack!”
Sadie raised an eye ridge. “Shouldn’t that be my concern?”
“Ah hah hah. What.... are they?”
“Eggs, of course,” the ancient gargoyle replied as she strolled inside to sit on one of the wooden tiers lining the walls, presumably to hold more eggs. She sighed. “I remember when the rookery – the house! – was built. We barely had enough room for all of them.” She sighed again and ran a hand over her face, aging a century. “And now, these five are the future of an entire race. A soon to be extinct race.”
“What? But....” Jay reached out and reverently traced the curve of the shell. “But they look healthy. And the clan – ”
“The clan numbers sixteen. There are only five in the next generation. Even without the problem of inbreeding, unless another clan magically appeared somewhere, we are the last of our kind.”
Jay gave a tiny sigh and studied the eggs for a moment. A small gasp from Sadie jerked her head up, and she watched in fear as Sadie’s eyes, normally a pale and kindly blue, clouded over and turned hard and distant. “There shall come a time when three races are one, and gargoyles are free to walk humankind’s streets with the children and other offspring of Oberon. It will be a new Gathering, a time of great joy and prosperity, but also a time of fear and pain. And at the dawn of a new Golden Age, there shall be a Great War, fought on every plane, era, and form. Champions of Good shall rise and fall into obscurity, but five shall go on to save a thankless reality. And they must succeed, or the Enemy will destroy all that is, ever was, or ever could be. When an ancient spell finally frees the sentinels, and plague again threatens the world, and gargoyle and human are joined in blessed unity, as are human and fay, and the king of the third race succumbs to kindness, then the end shall begin. It shall be heralded by twos; When the Ancients and the Mystics meet and spread, the Master of a New Magic takes another form, unborn stones forgive their fathers, and two phoenixes die again, then the evil shall arrive. And at the time of greatest victory of Good, It shall strike, trying to render all for, and to, naught.” Sadie snapped back to normal, the sudden transition frightening Jay almost more than the old gargoyle’s words.
“Sadie?” she tried cautiously.
“Oh dear,” the venerable gargoyle said, then mumbled under her breath.
“I’ll go get.... someone.” Jay started to stand, then froze when Sadie snapped her fingers.
“I’m getting too old for this shit,” she quoted with a wry grin, then stood with a groan. “Follow me.”
Woodenly, Jay followed her to the library. Obeying the elderly gargoyle’s directions, she sat and repeated Sadie’s words. When Jay finished speaking and she was done writing it all down, Sadie sighed and rested her face in her hands. “You know, I really don’t need prophecies of ancient evil,” she groaned. “I’m retiring soon, for gods’ sakes. ‘Unborn stone’ and ‘phoenixes’ indeed. You’d think that any prophecy about the ultimate evil would at least be in plain, understandable terms, but nooo. Riddles wrapped up in enigmas shrouded in conundrums up the wazoo and not a bit of sense in sight.” She sighed again, this time in disgust. “Well. It appears I need to move the timetable up a bit.” She gave the entranced teen a speculative look. It was an unparalleled chance, really. It’d be a waste of a good spell to not use it, and she wasn’t often able to have a helper.
“Come. We have a lot of work to do and not much time.” At least, I have very little time.
Big thanks once again to Datafage for proofing! Grovel before the Great Proof Reader!
Also, many bemused, confused, but heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to write and tell me what they thought about my fics. *sniffle* You tolerate me! You really tolerate me! ;)
Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I want to read more! To get back to the fic archive
Any questions? Complaints? Screams of outrage that I actually consider myself a writer and/or dared to show this in public? Tell me! Send it all to Norcumi@backtick.net! I love mail!!!!
With the exception of the Yuppie Couple, Dracon, Xanatos Enterprises, Cyberbiotics, Nightstone Unlimited, and some gargoyle lore, which belong to Buena Vista and therefore the Great Mouse, everything in here belongs to me (well, except anything disclaimed after this point). That means if for some strange reason you want to use my characters in your stuff, you have to ask first.
The Mohegan Sun Casino belongs to the Mohegan Indians, of course, and Foxwoods Resort Casino belongs to the Mashantucket Pequots.
Music is from the Flood album, which belongs to They Might Be Giants, or Tom Lehrer.
I don’t own Power Ranges, Barney, or the teletubbies. I’m not sure who does, but it sure isn’t me.
No infringement of any sort is intended on any of these owners, I’m just using this to get the stories out of my deluded mind. I’m not making a profit (or any money at all), so please don’t sue.